Positive youth development through participatory processes

When youth become active participants in the programs they are a part of they don’t just become more engaged, they benefit from deeper learning and connections.

Consider the lessons, classes or topics that you have become most passionate about. What made that learning so interesting? It is likely that, regardless of the topic, it was presented in an engaging way that left the discovery and processing to you as the participant rather than the instructor. The primary framework of 4-H Positive Youth Development, whether in a club, after-school or mentoring format, is the experiential learning model. This model strives to engage youth in a self-driven, inquiry based learning process. Essential to this approach are facilitators who operate from a participatory process model in which youth become decision makers and leaders. A young person's development can benefit greatly from participatory learning processes.

The basic premise is part of the 4-H Guiding Principles by Michigan State University Extension. It states youth who become participants, rather than recipients, in programs build ownership and gain more developmentally. This can be tied back to the Situated Learning Theory put forth by Jean Larve and Etienne Wanger which views learning as a social, interactive process rather than an activity done by an individual. Consider this with the ecological theory of human development that understands youth as developing within various layers of context. Looking at these two theories together, youth developed in different situations and learning processes should engage youth across settings in a social, participatory way. Experiential learning emphasizes youth make their own learning discoveries using their peers, adult leaders and environment as resources to reflect upon their observations.

There is a clear benefit to engaging youth as participants, rooted in fundamental theories on development and learning. Our personal experiences find that active learning processes are most engaging and effective. The challenge then becomes bridging the gap between these great, theoretical foundations, creating programming and ways of facilitating, especially it is a struggle to engage youth as active participants.  “Participate Already” also addresses the issue of program design and facilitation.

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